New Sparks31 Class: Electronic Interception, Communications Monitoring, and Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) For the 3%er, Prepper, or Survivalist – October 20th to 21st, 2018 – Denver, Colorado

I’ve received enough emails asking me to do a class on electronic interception, that I decided to make one available. If there remains sufficient interest after this first one, I’ll schedule another.

Sparks31 presents:

Electronic Interception, Communications Monitoring, and Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) For the 3%er, Prepper, or Survivalist

October 20th to 21st, 2018
Denver, Colorado

This is a two day class focused on the needs of the 3%er, survivalist, or prepper. It teaches the basics of intelligence versus information, electronic communications monitoring, signals intelligence (SIGINT), and open source intelligence (OSINT) in support of SIGINT. It has been my observation that these skills are important and needed. Until now instruction was unavailable in the 3%, survivalist, and prepper communities. This class has been developed to provide access to this valuable information, and help those who would like to learn. It is based upon my 30 years of experience in communications monitoring, and work in the electronics , radio communications, and security industries. It has been distilled into the essentials from the best military, private sector, and hobbyist sources. Much of the material is new and has never before been presented in one course, including my previous grid-down/down-grid communications classes.

The first day of class will be a course of instruction where the following topics will be taught and discussed:

  • What is intelligence?
  • Intelligence versus information.
  • What is SIGINT, COMINT, ELINT,and OSINT, and how do they all work together.
  • Legalities of civilian SIGINT.
  • Area studies.
  • What do you need? Equipment types and figuring out its selection for your area.
  • Electronic interception, communications monitoring (low level voice intercept) and COMINT techniques.
  • Setting up a listening post in different situations.
  • Police scanners, communications receivers, SDRs, antennas, and other gear.
  • Constructing an electronic order of battle for your area.

The second day of class will be a field exercise in which the techniques taught the previous day will be demonstrated, and students who have brought equipment will have the opportunity to engage in a monitoring exercise. A listening post will be set up, communications monitoring activity will be conducted, and further practical instruction provided.

Due to the intense, technical nature of this class, (I have a well-deserved reputation for giving a lot of material to students over the course of the class. Be prepared to take extensive notes.) enrollment size will be limited.

The cost for this two-day class will be at a discounted rate of $200 until August 31st, 2018. After August 31st, the cost will increase to $250 provided slots remain available. Advance registration ends October 1st. After October 1st, the “at the door” price for any remaining slots will be $400.

To enroll and receive payment information, please email me via sparks31@protonmail.com or sparks31wyo@gmail.com.


Communications Monitoring How-To: Fire Services, Part 1


The idea for this article came from a post at the Lower Valley Assembly about fire safety and survival. It’s an example of what you’ll learn from the upcoming Electronic Interception, Communications Monitoring, and Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) For the 3%er, Prepper, or Survivalist being held October 20th to 21st, 2018 in Denver, Colorado.

Fire services are one of the easiest and most practical communications monitoring targets for SIGINT. They are usually analog, don’t run encryption, and are only active when something is happening. In most disaster situations, the local fire department is the first on-scene and the lead agency in response and mitigation.

Fire Departments are dispatched by either a local (town/city/village), county, or regional dispatch center. This is important to know (OSINT), as it will help you to find the necessary frequencies. A good rule of thumb is that cities and larger incorporated towns/villages will have their own fire dispatch. Smaller municipalities and unincorporated places will use a county or regional dispatch.

The state and federal government will also have their own fire departments for incidents (wildfires) on state and federal land. The state’s conservation agency (Forestry, Environmental Conservation/Protection) for forest/brush/wild-fires on state lands, and the BLM, Forest Service, and Park Service for their respective federal lands. If you live near any state/federal lands, you will want to note the jurisdiction and listen to them as well.

In most instances, radio activity will begin on a dispatch frequency, especially with volunteer departments. The dispatch center will “tone out” (tone page) the particular department or unit for the emergency’s area and follow up with a voice transmission stating the unit/department and the nature of the call. Urban (paid) departments may not have a dispatch frequency, and instead get paged by a non-radio system. Volunteer departments will almost always be paged out via radio, although I’ve heard some departments have been experimenting with SMS for dispatch.

Smaller, especially volunteer, departments might also use the dispatch frequency for initial response operations while responding to the scene. Otherwise, they will have an operations frequency. Regardless, this frequency will be used for units calling in and out of service, and for communicating with dispatch. If the incident is short-lived or small enough, everything will be completed on the operations frequency.

If the incident turns out to be more than a quick call out, then the department will probably shift to an on-scene frequency. This are known by different names: (on-)scene, tac(tical), and fireground are a few of the more common terms used. This frequency is the channel the responding units will use with each other at the scene while working the call. Since the users will be on mobile and portable radios, the range will be pretty limited. During the incident, the operations (or dispatch) frequency will be used for communicating from the scene to dispatch. I have also heard the on-scene frequencies used for “private” off-the-record conversations between members at various times.

Finally, you will have the interoperability or mutual-aid frequencies. These can be used for anything from mutual-aid requests to to multi-agency response during an incident. They typically remain silent unless the incident is really big and requires more assets than the responding department can provide.

To be continued…

A Portable Communications Monitoring Setup: How To Do It

Listening is >2X as important as transmitting.

Listening is >2X as important as transmitting, and your first goal should be getting your monitoring station together. Your second goal should be learning how to use it to become good at communications monitoring.

Start with a single receiver. Make it a handheld so you can take it with you to the field, on vacation, or wherever. Later on you can expand your intercept capability.

Next get on http://www.interceptradio.com/. Get frequency info for your area. Join the BBS. Ask questions.

Here is one of the systems I run in the field:




I like Icom products. This is an older IC-R5 wideband receiver, and has been replaced by the nearly identical IC-R6. Why do I like it? It’s small. It runs forever on 2 AA batteries. It has 100 KHz. – 1.3 GHz. frequency coverage. It has no trunking or digital voice (P25 Phase I/II, DMR, NXDN) reception, but it wasn’t designed for that. For on-scene tactical intercepts and general wideband listening it’s one of the best receivers I’ve owned.

The stock rubber duck antenna on this receiver is adequate, but like any other stock antenna not great.  I’ve added two other antennas. The first is a Diamond SRH789 for when I want increased receiving distance. Although it’s spec’d at 95-1100 MHz, it still does well at lower frequencies because handheld wideband receivers such as this are designed to use shorter antennas. Attach a full-size HF antenna to this receiver, and you’ll overload the front end and degrade your reception capability. With the SRH789 I have no problems listening to distant 11m AM skip-shooters or HF broadcasters provided the bands aren’t dead. The second antenna is a Comet SMA501. That antenna is for discreet (read:covert), short-range, “on-scene” monitoring. With it, I can stuff the radio in a pocket, attach a set of earbuds, and inconspicuously monitor communications. Both Diamond and Comet make good portable and mobile antennas, and they can be easily mail-ordered or purchased at a Ham Shop like Ham Radio Outlet.

All this stuff has to be stored somewhere, and as is my usual custom, I visited the local Army/Navy surplus stores. Seriously, if you’re not hitting up the local surplus stores and trading posts on a regular basis, your life has a serious deficiency that needs correcting. While visiting one, I found that utility pouch made by Tactical Tailor that holds the entire monitoring kit. The brand is unimportant. What is important is that the product quality is good, and that it functions as intended. Visit your local surplus stores.  You’ll find something just as good.

All that’s now left is keeping it powered for a while. The R5 runs off two AA batteries or 6V DC that you plug into a connector on the side. As a bonus, the radio can charge the batteries while you’re running it off the 6V DC.


Nothing special here. There’s the Icom 120V wall-wart supply that comes with the receiver, an Icom 12V-to-6V DC converter so I can run it off of a 12V source, and a Guide10 power pack from Goal Zero. The Guide10 has 4AA batteries in it, and will charge them from a USB-type power supply or from a solar panel. That gives me two extra sets of batteries to run the R5, and the means to charge them on or off-grid.

Not shown in the pictures is a Goal Zero Nomad13 which is used for off-grid solar battery charging when needed, and a small notebook and writing implements that were purchased at the local dollar store.

This setup would be perfectly fine for any students attending the class in October.